Friday’s attacks in Paris are another reminder that the world, at times, can be a terrifying place. The images and first-hand accounts coming out of France are simply horrific, and have truly shaken society to its core. Our thoughts are with the victims, their families, and the survivors who have experienced such unconstrained evil.
During such a confusing time, conflicting reports and a lack of information is rampant. For those in Paris, Facebook activated its “safety check” feature, which allows individuals to let their friends and family know that they are alright. It’s the first time the feature has been employed during an act of terrorism—all previous uses were the result of natural disasters. It’s a big step for Facebook, showing that it can pivot on the designed purpose of its technology to support its user-base during a time of crisis—natural or manmade.
But it’s not all positive reviews. There’s been some online backlash about why Facebook chose Paris to utilize this feature, when there was also an attack on Beirut, Lebanon on Friday. There was an option to put a French flag filter of a Facebook user’s profile picture, but not one for Lebanon.
“We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding,” said Facebook’s Vice President of Growth, Alex Schultz.
“In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones. We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was still a need that we could fill. So we made the decision to try something we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than a natural disaster. There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.”
There will always be a political debate after events like this, but we can all agree that Facebook’s “safety check” is a fantastic idea and feature. In a fluid situation like we saw in Paris, the number one priority for many people is to ensure the safety of their loved ones. We can only hope this is the first and only time it will need to be activated for such an event.